Recreation & Destinations

NWQ Getaway Guide, Winter Edition

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A great weekend’s journey is right inside our region. Here are some of our area’s excellent places to play.

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‘Let it Snow’ at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa

With snow in the air, it’s time to wax the skis and sharpen the ice skates at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa in Galena.

“So many people love Eagle Ridge’s summer activities – the golfing, the pool – but when it comes to winter, we love nothing better than playing in the snow,” says Thomas Ruhs, general manager, Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa. “It all starts at the South Course Clubhouse, which serves as our winter command center once the first snow is on the ground.”

Daily activities include bonfires, cross-country ski lessons, ice carving demonstrations, turkey bowling, snowshoe lessons, hockey puck shuffleboard and broomball. For Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa guests, the following activities and equipment rental fees are included as complimentary amenities:
• Skiing, sledding and ice skating for up to two hours per person per day.
• Cross-country skiing: Skiers can enjoy miles of groomed cross-country ski trails that wind through the 6,800 acres of The Galena Territory’s scenic terrain.
• Sledding: Eagle Ridge’s sledding hill is located on the fairway of the 18th hole on the South Course and has a 77-foot elevation drop.
• Ice Skating: Ice skating takes place on the resort’s one-acre pond, which is groomed each night to ensure the smoothest skating each day.
• Broomball: Eagle Ridge provides all the necessary equipment for a fun game of broomball.

In addition to the on-site activities, Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa is located just 15 minutes from one of Illinois’ top downhill ski and snowboarding areas. And there’s always something going on in Galena, from shopping and wine tours to special events like Galena’s ’50s Weekend on Feb. 14 and 15.

Of course, guests don’t have to brave the cold at all at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa. It’s always summer around the heated indoor pool, where guests and families enjoy games and activities like movie nights and make-your-own snacks. Guests can also relax at the luxurious Stonedrift Spa and at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa’s award-winning restaurants.

Winter vacation packages are now available including President’s Day weekend packages. Guests can visit eagleridge.com to view current packages and make reservations, or call (800) 892-2269. To inquire about winter activities, call (815) 777-5000.

Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa is located 150 miles west of Chicago within The Galena Territory, a 6,800-acre recreational, residential and resort community six miles southeast of the historic town of Galena. The resort’s grounds include 63 holes on four award-winning golf courses, and accommodations that range from quaint inn rooms to more than 250 villas and distinctive homes.

Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa has 15,000 square feet of state-of-the-art meeting space and beautiful conference homes, which regularly accommodate corporate groups, banquets and weddings. Other features include award-winning restaurants, the tranquil Stonedrift Spa, and an incredible selection of outdoor activities including miles of biking, hiking and horseback riding trails, as well as tennis, hot air balloon rides, boating and fishing on the picturesque 225-acre Lake Galena.

For reservations or additional information, call (800) 892-2269 or visit eagleridge.com.

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Grand Geneva Resort & Spa: A Grand Winter Getaway in Lake Geneva

There’s something truly magical about Lake Geneva during the winter. From the first snowfall of the season to the crisp seasonal air and array of annual festivals and activities, it proves to be an idyllic winter getaway for guests from near and far.

Adding to what makes the destination so amazing during the winter is Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, the area’s only AAA Four-Diamond resort. The sprawling campus and its sister property, Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark, offer numerous activities and special events throughout the winter.

For skiers and snowboarders seeking a place to carve throughout the season, The Mountain Top is one of Wisconsin’s premier ski and snowboarding destinations. With 18 winding scenic slopes, ranging from beginner-level trails to courses creatively developed with expert skiers in mind, Grand Geneva offers a winter destination perfect for a getaway with the entire family or a corporate office team outing. Night owls need not worry, either; The Mountain Top invites you to ski as late as 10 p.m. And don’t stress about the lack of snow in the forecast. The Mountain Top has the power to create its own powder, employing more than 20 snowmaking machines to turn the snow-capped mountain into fresh, skiable terrain.

In the spirit of learning, the resort offers “Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month,” a nationwide initiative throughout the month of January that encourages children and adults to take lessons from professional instructors, and challenges current skiers and snowboarders to improve their skills with advanced classes.

In February, Grand Geneva hosts its annual Winter Carnival. The one-day event is held at the resort’s Mountain Top ski hill and offers activities ranging from snow school demonstrations to tobogganing competitions, slalom races and more. The Winter Carnival concludes with a Torch Light Parade and fireworks. Admission to the Winter Carnival festivities is complimentary; regular fees apply for snow activities including skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing.

A winter holiday has to include timeless activities such as ice skating. So, grab a pair of skates and a complimentary hot chocolate and test your skills on the rink. Or, gather your friends and family and challenge them to a sled race down the hill.

If the snow isn’t quite your thing, grab your bathing suit and head over to Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark for indoor water fun. Unwind on a tube in the lazy river or plunge down 35-foot-high slides and make a splash. On that note, keep things warm and indoors at Grand Geneva’s WELL Spa, which offers an array of spa therapies and body treatments. What says winter more than a soak and a hot stone massage? Did someone say spahhhh?

Speaking of reinvigorating oneself… for those looking to kick off 2014 with a healthier regime in place, Grand Geneva offers an intensive, 3-day wellness program that integrates the three pillars of a lifestyle change: fitness, nutrition and wellness. The Wellness RETREAT is designed for guests to look and feel better. Sessions include chef-prepared meals, premium WELL Spa + salon services, group fitness classes, daily consultations with certified nutritionists and cooking lessons, all customized in pre-arranged itineraries. Whether your goal is fitness, nutrition, stress relief, weight loss or a well-deserved pampering, the Wellness RETREAT is rejuvenation and training for the body and soul. The retreat will be offered throughout 2014.

There you have it. Snow? Check. Skiing? Check. Water slides? Check. Spa? Check. What more could you ask for in a winter destination?

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Caterpillar Visitors Center: Ride With the Big CATs in Peoria

Q: What has a giant dump truck, an assortment of large earthmovers and a ton of kid-friendly displays on how they’re all made?

A: The Caterpillar Visitors Center, in downtown Peoria, a 50,000 square-foot tribute to the city’s largest employer, and the manufacturer of America’s familiar yellow construction equipment.

Opened in fall 2012, the place is especially kid-friendly, but it’s no less fascinating for adults. In fact, many of its 106,000 visitors during the first year were Caterpillar employees and customers, hailing from all 50 states and nearly 20 countries.

“We built this for three reasons, and the first was for our employees,” says Kathryn Spitznagle, visitors center manager. “We have employees all over the world. They may work for Caterpillar their whole careers and never see the final product.”

The visitors center is also dedicated to the Peoria community and Caterpillar’s customers, who can personally experience these machines in an interactive display that begins inside a massive Caterpillar 797F mining truck. Standing two stories tall, this full-scale replica is built with the hauler’s actual front, including the grill, radiator and cabin. Its real counterpart weighs 400 tons.

Inside this much-lighter version is a 62-seat theatre, where visitors can learn about Caterpillar’s customers and the 797F. “It has rumble seats, and you feel like you’re behind the driver’s seat,” says Spitznagle.

The visitors center includes several interactive exhibits and theatres, as it walks you through the manufacturing and design process. There’s a set of 3-D displays that show the company’s product design process, and a station where kids can design their own custom earthmover, then email that image to mom and dad.

Kids especially enjoy the product floor, where the No. 31 Caterpillar NASCAR and six genuine Caterpillar products are on full display. Inside these actual cement mixers, wheel loaders, backhoes and tractors, kids can sit in the cabins, push buttons and even “test-drive” two machines in a computer-driven simulator.

“They’re the same simulators we use to train our operators,” says Spitznagle. It’s much shorter, though, about three minutes, rather than several hours.”

Located downtown next to the Peoria Riverfront Museum, the visitors center was a popular spot for families on their summer vacations. Now, it’s also a growing destination for schoolteachers, who can find supporting educational materials, such as scavenger hunts and puzzles, at the visitors center website.

“Just this September, we launched a curriculum for grades K-12 students that aligns with the Illinois core standards,” says Spitznagle. “Teachers are excited because it’s something that aligns with curriculum, so it’s easy to get permission to go.”

Inside the social room, kids can celebrate birthday with Caterpillar-themed parties, and adults can enjoy off-site office gatherings, some of which come with scavenger hunts and access to the displays.

With world headquarters located across the street, Caterpillar rarely offers public tours of its Peoria-area manufacturing center. Now, the visitors center puts the company up close and personal with its hometown.

“Many in Peoria have been touched by Caterpillar, whether it’s a family member, neighbor or friend who’s worked here,” says Spitznagle. “There’s very much an allegiance.”

The visitors center is open Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, visit caterpillar.com/visitors-center.

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Green Lake: Explore Wisconsin’s Oldest Resort Community

Wisconsin’s deepest natural lake is a destination made famous because of its natural beauty. American Indians were the first to discover Green Lake’s remarkable landscape, which is teeming with fish and surrounded by hills, cliffs, forests and sheltered bays. In 1847, settlers made it the first permanent resort west of Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Today’s Green Lake is Wisconsin’s jewel and a place with a relaxed lifestyle. The family-friendly city on the lake’s northeast shore is filled with great attractions, from retail shops, restaurants and parks to bed & breakfasts, resorts and conference centers.

The waterfront is this area’s main attraction. At 237 feet deep, the lake boasts 27 miles of shoreline and covers 7,346 acres. It’s excellent for boating, fishing and swimming, but its surroundings are also perfect for biking, hiking, picnicking and camping.

Green Lake is an exciting destination year-round, with events celebrating everything from the summer solstice to the start of the harvest season. From the historic Thrasher Opera House, to the Green Lake Festival of Music, to free concerts in the park every Wednesday, entertainment and activity is plentiful every day. Depending on your mood, dining choices range from five-star dining to a casual “show up in your flip-flops right from the lake” atmosphere. In Green Lake, ice cream is lunch!

For you landlubbers, Green Lake offers four golf courses. The Golf Courses of Lawsonia includes two 18-hole championship courses and was named “Wisconsin Golf Course of the Year 2008” by Golf Course Owners of Wisconsin. Tuscumbia Country Club, founded in 1896, is Wisconsin’s oldest course. Mascoutin Golf Course and White Lake Resort round out the area’s great golfing. All are within a short distance of downtown Green Lake.

Bikers, too, will find a perfect landscape amidst this varied terrain. The area boasts 140 miles of biking trails on seven routes, including Green Lake Conference Center’s trails. There is a route for every skill level.

Whether it’s your home away from home or your home sweet home, Green Lake offers simple pleasures and the time to relax, reconnect and rejuvenate while pursuing your favorite recreation. For more information, contact the Green Lake Area Chamber at (800) 254-7354.

Green Lake’s Best Links
Green Lake’s Best Links
The Golf Courses of Lawsonia: Its two courses, covering 36 holes, have been recognized by Golf Week and Golf Digest as some of Wisconsin’s – and the nation’s – best public golfing. The Links course maintains a wide-open Scottish aesthetic, while The Woodlands course is carved out of the thick forest bordering Green Lake. The Woodlands features tree-lined fairways and severe elevation changes.

Mascoutin Golf Club: In a land where fire-worshiping American Indians once lived, this course was carved out of a century-old forest in 1975. With undulating greens, sand traps galore and plenty of water hazards, it’s a challenging course, but appealing to golfers of all skills. In 1999, Mascoutin opened a new nine-hole course. Known as The “Blue,” it features waste bunkering, elevation changes, forced natural hazard carries, river views, water hazards and even a “cliff” hole. This was the site of the 2006 WSGA State Amateur Championship.

Tuscumbia Country Club: Wisconsin’s oldest golf course has a reputation for being excellently manicured, with majestic evergreens and hardwoods, thick rough, tight fairways and rolling landscape. Tuscumbia’s 27-hole, 6,301-yard, par-71 layout is complemented by a log clubhouse with meeting space, ninth-hole snack shop, driving range, practice green, fully stocked pro shop, club repairs and locker rooms.

White Lake Golf Resort: This 18-hole, par-72 golf course is carved out of ancient glacier-formed hilltop scenery, and offers a maximum distance of 6,359 yards, with 10 doglegs. Its first nine-hole course includes a 515-yard No. 6 hole with a densely tree-guarded green. The newer nine-hole course includes a par-5 No. 15 hole that has a trap-protected dogleg, fairway pond and tree-covered green. Set on a vacation resort, the course is surrounded by rental units, a supper club/lounge and sandy beachfront. It’s located a few minutes from Green Lake on Hwy. 23.

Starved Rock State Park offers more than 13 miles of outdoor trails to explore year-round, either on your own or with one of the guided hikes that begin at the Lodge.

Starved Rock State Park offers more than 13 miles of outdoor trails to explore year-round, either on your own or with one of the guided hikes that begin at the Lodge.

Starved Rock Lodge: The Winter Woods and Waterfalls are Calling

By Kathy Casstevens-Jasiek, Marketing Director, Starved Rock Lodge

Starved Rock Lodge & State Park are an unexpected surprise on the prairie. Located near Utica, Ill., the canyons, bluffs and seasonal iced-over waterfalls are unlike the surrounding flatlands and cornfields. Bald eagles fly overhead as they feed along the banks of the Illinois River.

The historic Lodge has a massive, two-sided fireplace that crackles with glowing logs that warm the winter air and welcome guests from near and far.

Even in the winter, hikers love to explore the change of scenery with snow-covered canyons and fresh trails to photograph. There’s nothing like being the first to hike into a canyon when the trail is covered with freshly fallen snow. If you’re lucky, you might beat the deer, squirrels and rabbits and have your footprints lead the way. Some visitors enjoy hiking on their own, while others prefer the added value of guided hikes, offered every weekend year-round.

Starved Rock Lodge’s annual photo contest is underway, now through Feb. 17. Photographers of all skill levels are invited to submit their best Starved Rock photos into one of five categories. Details are on the Lodge’s website, starvedrocklodge.com. Photographers who enter the contest may also display their work at a photo show scheduled for Feb. 23 in the Great Hall. 

Other winter highlights include the annual Bridal Expo on Sunday, Jan. 5. Hosting more than 120 weddings each year, Starved Rock Lodge & State Park have become a popular destination for outdoor weddings in warm weather, and indoor ceremonies in cold (and inclement) weather. This popular Bridal Expo is an opportunity to see all of the locations and services the Lodge has to offer for that special day.

Sled Dog Demos, hosted by Free Spirit Siberian Rescue, return to the Lodge on Jan. 12 and Feb. 2. Dogs will run with their sleds in the lower park area west of the Visitor Center.

Eagle Watch Weekend is set for Jan. 26-27, with its “Birds of Prey” show and hands-on exhibits. Eagle Trolley Tours, offered during January and February, include lunch and a guided tour aboard a Starved Rock Trolley, on a trip to see America’s symbol of strength at its winter residence. This is Starved Rock’s most popular winter tour.

In the quiet of winter, 13 cabins set peacefully in the woods provide a getaway that can be truly restful and rejuvenating. Best of all, an indoor pool complex is just a few steps, away with its pool, hot tub and two saunas. To see all of Starved Rock’s winter events, visit starvedrocklodge.com.

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